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Best ways to Improve your English Reading Comprehension

By Dr Norman

There are several ways to improve your English reading comprehension. The most obvious, is to start by reading every day, and to strive for understanding each time you read. But there is more you can do. You can also use some of the same techniques that good teachers use and really ‘super-charge’ your learning. Just follow this proven 3-step process to actively learn and improve!

3 steps to improve your English reading

Step 1: Before reading

Choose the right material for learning

Start by selecting material that is at the right level to improve your English reading. You really want to understand about 90 – 95% of what you read. That leaves you with 5 – 10% to learn. This is a manageable amount that is good for learning. There will be some things that you can read and understand at this level without any supports, but there will be other things that are more difficult to understand will need supports. Your understanding is supported when the text includes pictures, photos, diagrams or graphs. Choose harder readings when they come with supports that can raise your understanding to the 90% level.

Also try to find some materials that have translations. You might, for instance, find books that have one page written in English and the other page written in your language. Materials with translations can be particularly useful when you have chosen material that is a bit more difficult to understand. These can help you if you use them properly for learning. We will look at how to do this in step 2 below.

Apply some useful strategies to improve comprehension

Once you have things to read that are at the right level, try some of the following learning strategies before you read to improve your English reading comprehension.

  • A.      Quickly scan, or run your eye over the text.
    Scanning the text allows you to see all the headings and to see how the text is structured. Look at the sections in the text, the photos, the diagrams and the graphs. This will give you a broad idea of what the reading is about. If you are about to read a book, then look at the chapter headings.

  • B.      Think about what you already know about the topic.
    The quick scan in the step above will have already given you ideas about the topic. Now think about what you already know. Make a list. You will be able to use this knowledge to make an educated guess about the meaning of new words and phrases.

  • C.      Now think about the details.
    What questions do you hope or expect the writer will answer? These might include ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ questions. You might find it useful to write these questions down so that you can remember and use them in the next 2 steps of the process.

Step 2: During reading

Once you have prepared, start to read carefully and strive for understanding. Read section by section, taking the following steps as you go.

  • A.      Before and after each section, guess what will come next.
    Use anything and everything in the text to help you guess what will come next: the title, the headings, the graphs, the photos and pictures. Also use the ideas and questions you generated in step 1. Keep revising your guesses and your understanding as you read.

  • B.      As you read each section, guess the meanings of any new words and phrases.
    Use the context and your emerging understanding of the text to help you work out what new words and phrases mean.

  • C.      If you have a translation, do not look at it until you have finished reading.
    Use any translations you have to give you feedback on your understanding at the end, after you have finished reading. This way you will learn and retain more.

Step 3: After reading

When you finish reading, you can consolidate and develop your learning further. Choose to do one or more of these suggestions each time you finish reading.

  • A.      Check to see if the writer answered your questions.
    Remember those questions that you wrote in step 1 before you started reading? Go back and see if you can answer them based on what you read. Of course, the writer will often tell you more than what you asked in these questions. So think about what else you learnt or found out.

  • B.      Summarise the text.
    Summarising really checks that you got the essence of the piece. You can do this in various ways. You can write a paragraph in your own words, summarise the main ideas in a diagram or even explain the piece in a picture.

  • C.      Tell someone about what you read.
    Find someone you can talk to in English. Tell them about the interesting story, idea or facts that you have just read. If you are enthusiastic, then you listener will often want to discuss this even further with you and may even ask you questions. These will help ‘test’ your understanding.

Following these 3 steps allows you to become both the teacher and learner, and will improve your understanding of what you read in English.

Tell your friends!

See Dr Norman discuss this on Youtube.

1st  August 2016

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